Blog >> Copywriting

Darcy Grabenstein Sep 27

The ABCs of Effective CTAs

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When researching best practices in copywriting, you can find a plethora of articles about headlines, email subject lines, SEO content and more. An equally important (and perhaps more important) element to research and refine is the call to action (CTA). According to Unbounce, more than 90% of people who read the headline also read the CTA.

Why is the CTA so important? This is the desired action you want your target audience to take as a result of your communication. If your goal is to increase brand awareness, the CTA could be a simple “Learn More.” Want to sell products or services? Be direct with a “BUY IT” button.

It does not matter whether your focus is B2C, B2B or what channel/tactic you use — email, direct mail, website, banner ad — a strong CTA is crucial. And it does not matter what industry you’re in — hi-tech, higher ed, pharma, tourism, retail — you still need a compelling CTA.

What’s not a compelling CTA? “Click here,” for starters. You’ve got to give them a reason to “click here.” From an SEO standpoint for web content, “click here” does nothing. And from a user experience (UX) perspective, it’s not exactly user friendly. Change it to “Learn more about our EMBA programs” and you’re on the right track. Adding a sense of urgency (“SHOP NOW”) can boost the click-through rate (CTR). All caps (“FIND OUT HOW”) vs. lowercase (“Find Out How”) can also increase response.

Design is another key component of a successful CTA. A button calls more attention to the CTA than a simple text link. Color, shape, icons (such as an arrow) and positioning of a CTA can impact its CTR. And don’t forget mobile. Buttons should be at least 44 pixels square to avoid errant clicks by large thumbs.

Here are several examples of click-worthy CTAs:


When it comes to CTAs, there definitely can be too much of a good thing. On a landing page, where your goal should be to generate leads, you should have only one CTA. On the thank-you page, where you want to drive visitors back to your site, it’s OK to go hog-wild with links.

How do you know if your CTA is performing? Make sure you include a tracking code on the URL you’re linking to. Then check your analytics for click-throughs.

When in doubt, test. You could say that’s my mantra. But be sure to test only one element at a time to avoid skewing your results. After you test, apply those learnings to your next project.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein Sep 29

Develop a Content Game Plan

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Content (and let’s not forget context) is king, so they say, which means you need a game plan to keep pace with your opponent, er, competition. Here are a few excerpts from our content playbook, to help ensure that you’ll be on the offensive, not the defensive, throughout the year.

Game plan

Play No. 1: Be relevant

Think about it. If a football coach were to give a locker room speech encouraging his players to slam-dunk and hit three-pointers, would they quickly zone out? Of course they would.

The same can be applied to content. You’ve not only got to be relevant, you need to provide the reader with some valid take-aways.

Whatever you do, avoid a fumble here. If you regularly post content that’s not remotely related to your line of business — or your followers’ interests — your content will eventually be ignored. Or worse, you’ll cause a turnover: Your followers will start following your competitors instead.

Play No. 2: Be timely

Timing is everything in football. It’s also important in terms of content and content marketing. You’ve got to keep on top of what’s trending in the news and in social media. That way, you can capitalize on trending topics by tying in your content in some way. The hashtag is your new best friend.

This concept, known in some circles as newsjacking, is not new. Public relations professionals have been doing this for decades because, in short, it works.

Miss the snap, however, and the play is over.

Play No. 3: Be consistent (but not predictable)

You’ve got to get in the game. By consistency, I mean you need to post content on a regular basis. If you post only sporadically, your followers will assume there’s nothing new on your social media sites and you’ll disappear from their radar screens.

But you don’t want everyone reading your passes, either. You DO want them reading your content. If you simply copy/paste your content from one social media site to another, you’ll lose in the long run. Define a strategy for each social media outlet (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), then develop content that builds upon that strategy.

Play No. 4: Be sure to pass

That is, hand off quality content to your colleagues via social media. In the world of social media, sharing is caring.

You want others to share your content on various social media networks, so it behooves you to return the favor. However, you’re not doing yourself (or the originator of the content) any favors if you’re sharing just for the sake of sharing. Share relevant content (see No. 1 above), and then make it value added by including your own insight.

Of course, you can always play Monday morning quarterback but by then most of the social media buzz probably will have subsided and you’ll miss out on the bulk of the action.

Here’s to a winning season!

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Photo courtesy of: Jim Larrison

Darcy Grabenstein Jun 16

Saying ‘I do’ to the marriage of design and copy

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Heart shaped by two hands

’Tis the season for weddings, which brings to mind famous pairs: Romeo and Juliet. Bread and butter. Yin and yang.

Some things, like design and copy, are simply better together than apart. Divorce is not an option. In certain channels, such as TV, this is quite obvious. Mute the volume on your TV and watch a few commercials (no cheating by enabling closed captioning). Then watch a few TV spots with sound. I think you’ll agree that the difference is striking.

The challenge is to strike a balance between the copy and design. An ad, whether it’s digital, print or broadcast, will be ignored if there’s too much copy. In contrast, it also will be glossed over if it’s all image with no explanatory copy.

This marriage of design and copy starts before the actual creative union (finished piece). For optimal results, collaboration should begin in the concept stage.

Many clients prefer to review copy first, however, for a variety of reasons. First, they want to make sure everyone’s on the same page (no pun intended). They want to ensure that the tone of the piece is what they had in mind, that the project is headed in the direction they envisioned. Second, they could potentially save on costs. Since design is usually more time-intensive than copy, they want to make sure the copy is finalized before proceeding to the design stage.

Even if this is the case, the copywriter and designer should first confer to ensure that they are on the same page. This will not only produce better results but will help the account manager, who is responsible for presenting a united front to the client.

Although my title is “copywriter,” I’m a very visual person. It helps my creative process to get an idea of what visuals will be used. Otherwise, I’m working in a vacuum, and that sucks (pun intended).

Think of the reverse scenario. What if a designer were asked to start on a project without any copy? When the copy is later flowed in, do you think there might be a bit of a disconnect?

A creative team that simultaneously develops copy and design can help the agency build a long-lasting relationship with its clients.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein May 28

The importance of copy

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Note: As fans mourn the end of “Mad Men,” senior copywriter Darcy Grabenstein recalls a blog post she wrote critiquing one of Don Draper’s magazine ads. This post originally appeared on Darcy’s personal blog in 2013.

Ad from "Mad Men" episode

In the season opener of “Mad Men,” Don Draper is pitching a print ad to his client that promotes Hawaii.

The mock-up shows a beach shoreline strewn with a man’s jacket, tie and shoes — with footprints leading into the ocean. The headline reads: “Hawaii: The jumping off point.”

Like Don’s client, I immediately thought of suicide. Then I realized that it was the copy that led me to that conclusion.

Instead of “Jumping Off Point,” if Don had used a headline or tagline of “Hawaii. Shed your cares,” I’m guessing his client would have bought the concept.

Not only does this episode emphasize the importance of copy, it also shows how graphics and copy must work together to create a clear, cohesive message.

We all know Don has a dark side to his character. Apparently, he let his personality cloud his copywriting. This also illustrates how agency creatives must listen to their clients, even when they think they’re right and the client is wrong.

Me? I’ll take a fact-finding junket to Hawaii any day.


 Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein Feb 12

What I Love About My Job

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Candy hearts

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought I’d get a little sentimental and share what I love about my job (sorry, honey). It’s one big love fest here at Annodyne, with several bloggers sharing what we love about working at the agency.

The people

I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years, and I’ve got to say that the folks at Annodyne take the drudgery out of my commute. From our creative team to our online marketers to our project and account managers to tech gurus, our staff rocks!

It’s one thing to like your coworkers and get along with them; it’s another to actually work well with each other. Within the creative team, we respect one anothers’ talents and actively collaborate without stepping on toes.

The collaboration continues among departments as well. I think the main reason we all work to make it work is because we put the clients’ needs foremost. We’re all willing to toe the line when necessary to ensure that we stay on point. (Do you detect a theme here?) Egos are set aside for the greater good. (And in a creative environment, trust me, this is no easy task!)

We even make time for some fun every month. One Friday a month, we get together for a little R&R (rowdiness and revelry?). We’ve gone bowling, raced go carts, decorated pumpkins and more. I think it’s important to get to know your coworkers outside the office setting. We’re often so busy meeting deadlines that it’s difficult to get to know each other on a personal basis. Every month, we get the chance to do just that.

The variety of work

Variety is what I love about working at an ad agency. Not only is the subject matter varied, but so is the medium. One day I can be working on content for a website, the next day copy for a print brochure, billboards or even bus signage. Heck, it’s more like one minute I’m working on one project, then have to shift gears and work on something totally different. It definitely keeps you on your toes.

The content itself varies from B2B (promoting Ann Arbor as a convention destination, for instance) to B2C (promoting community college courses ). While many copywriters focus on a niche, I love the fact that my job requires me to be versatile. I could be called upon to write news releases, blog posts, articles… emails, banner ads, social media posts… copy for pharma, tourism/travel, nonprofits, higher ed… you name it.

The actual work

It helps if you truly love your work. I can say that I do. I love to write. I love the challenge of coming up with different ways to convey a message. I love capturing the reader’s attention — and compelling the reader to take action, whether it’s clicking on a link, making a purchase, registering online, or whatever.

I love the power of language. I love the impact that words can have — either positive or negative — on someone.

I must admit that I’m partial to online writing. As someone who thrives on instant gratification, I love the immediacy of the medium. You can get a quick read on your promotion and tweak it on the fly for optimal results. I love the one-to-one communication that the Internet allows us.

Is it all rosy? Of course not. We face last-minute changes and needed-it-yesterday projects on a daily basis. But we deal with it and move on to the next task at hand. Like eating some Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

photo credit: Cottage 960 via photopin cc

Darcy Grabenstein Jan 20

Is Copywriting an Art or a Science?

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Lab with beakers

From character development to character counts, I’d argue that it’s both.

Well-written copy, like a fine portrait, creates a visual impression for the viewer. A skilled copywriter tells a story, weaving in details that paint a complete picture. Through careful placement of words, the writer can evoke emotion. In advertising/marketing, the writer spurs the audience to buy a product, to buy in to a concept or to want more details.

The art of copywriting is the same whether you’re writing for print or the web. However, writing digital content has become more of a science.

This is nothing new. Online writing is simply direct marketing via a different channel. The direct-response industry has it down to a science. There’s a proven formula, if you will, and it works. Every piece of a DM kit — from the envelope teaser to the letter and brochure to the response card — is written to certain specifications. Even the DM letter itself is dissected into the headline, the Johnson box, the body and the postscript.

Online copywriting takes copy-fitting concepts from the world of print to a whole new level, with not only word counts but character counts as well. Twitter, with its 140-character Tweet limit, is king of the character count. However, if you’re sticking to 140 characters, you’re selling yourself short (or is that long?). Tweets should be 100-120 characters, to allow for retweeting.

If Twitter is king, email marketing is probably the queen. Email subject line length is a topic that has been hotly debated throughout the industry. I think the jury’s still out on this. According to an article on the DMA Email Marketing Council Blog, subject line lengths can be categorized as short: <25 characters, medium: 25-50 characters and long: >50 characters. For mobile, subject lines should be 30 characters or less.

As with any marketing channel, you’ve got to test so you can determine what works best for your audiences. Since we’re talking subject lines, the open rate is the metric you should be looking at. When conducting your testing, try to keep all the other aspects (day/time sent, tone, segmentation, etc.) constant so as not to skew your results.

SEO is another area that puts the science into copywriting. Luckily for us copywriters, keyword density is an outdated SEO technique. Keywords as a whole are being downplayed these days. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can ignore keywords and keyword phrases altogether. It does mean that we can’t resort to keyword stuffing. It’s been said before and I’ll say it again: You must write for people, not the search engines. Write your content first, then go back and tweak it by inserting keywords where they would naturally occur.

Some SEO experts recommend a minimum of 300 words on web pages for Google indexing and ranking. Truth is, Google has no minimum word count. Google wants relevant, quality content. Period. You can write your little heart out, but if the content is not up to snuff, Google will snub you.

When it comes to page title tags and page descriptions, however, size matters. In Google search results, most title tags will be cut off around 42 to 68 characters. I know, that’s a huge range. According to The Moz Blog, 55 characters is a safe bet, but it pays to test. The same goes for page descriptions.

Social media also has hopped on the character count bandwagon. For Facebook ads, the headline is limited to 25 characters and the body to 90 characters. For posts, a study by Jeff Bullas revealed that brand posts of 40 characters had the highest levels of engagement.

What about Google+? A study by Copyblogger shows that 60 characters is the suggested max for headlines. Google+ posts average 156 characters, according to Qunitly Research.

The rule of thumb for blog posts is that they should be a minimum of 1500-1600 words. That’s if your goal is to boost search engine traffic. Personally, I don’t have the time or patience to read posts that long. I’d rather that someone actually read my post, and get something out of it, than to start reading it and become disengaged. And, according to a Kissmetrics post, since headlines usually are scanned by readers they are most effective when they’re six words or less. (Phew! And, if you’re wondering, I already had written the headline for this post before I got to this part of my research.)

Let’s not forget the role of data in all of this. Findings based on data analysis must be incorporated into content to optimize conversions. While the data collection and analysis is the scientific part, it definitely impacts the content.

In short, copy cannot be written in a silo. It must take into account the audience, analytics, the goal, the channel and other factors. A writer cannot simply wax poetic and expect results.

I rest my case. Copywriting is both an art and a science.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

photo credit: cwangdom via photopin cc

Darcy Grabenstein Jan 2

Keep Your Eye on the Crystal Ball: A Trio of Marketing Trends for 2015

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Crystal ballAs early as 2012, industry insiders were predicting marketing trends for 2015. I’m all for advance planning, but these days marketing (especially online marketing)
is a moving target. New devices, new apps and new experiences make today’s predictions obsolete in no time.

And now, at the risk of becoming obsolete, I’ll share a few of my own predictions for the coming year.

Context is dethroning content as king

Content will continue to be key, but I predict that context will eclipse content in terms of importance. What exactly is context marketing? It’s delivering the right message to the right person at the right time.

You’ll notice that I’m speaking about one message and one person. Even if you’re sending out an email to thousands of people on your list, your strategy and messaging should be formed around the idea of talking to a single customer or prospect.

Data is integral to context marketing, since this is what determines the right message, right person and right time. Collecting that data is the first step; using the data effectively can make or break your marketing campaign.

Google Glass

Wearables will become more mainstream

While I don’t expect wearable technology to be fully adopted by the masses (the prices are still too prohibitive for many, and the technology too intimidating), I do think we’ll be seeing more of these devices in the next year and beyond. Adweek declared wearables “the new social” after their domination at SXSW. From Google Glass, Samsung watches, smart bracelets and rings to GoPro and more, wearable tech is here to stay.

What does that mean for marketers? First, marketers will be called upon to promote the products themselves. Clever marketing will be required to convince the public that they need one of these devices. Marketers also will have to leverage opportunities for campaigns on these devices, tweaking them for these much smaller formats.

Writing skills will be more important than ever

OK, so I have a vested interest in this prediction. However, it can’t be denied that everyone is publishing content online. Individuals and businesses alike are creating and sharing content like crazy.

If you’re not a prolific writer, it’s OK. You can always hire a ghostwriter. (You’d be surprised how many big-name bloggers use ghostwriters.) If you do use a ghostwriter, however, be sure to collaborate from beginning to end. That way, your content will be genuine and reflect your personality and voice. If you write the content yourself, be sure to have someone proofread/edit your original copy before posting it.

So there you have it. My predictions are down to earth, not earth-shattering. What are your marketing predictions for the coming year?

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Crystal ball image courtesy of Jon Ross, Flickr

Google Glass photo credit: Royal Opera House Covent Garden via photopin cc

Darcy Grabenstein Dec 5

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

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Eraser shavings

At this time of year, it’s natural for thoughts to gravitate toward gratitude. I’m thankful that, for me, writing comes easy. (This is particularly helpful, given my line of work!) I think back to my school days, when my classmates would struggle over essay questions. I, on the other hand, welcomed them. In fact, I would silently pray that tests would have more essay questions than multiple choice. Let’s face it, eeny, meeny, miny, moe is not a great test-taking strategy.

That’s not to say writing always comes easy to me. Like anyone else, I suffer from the occasional writer’s block. If you’re trying to write a thank-you note, it’s not a huge deal. When you’re writing on deadline, however, the pressure can exacerbate the problem. You find yourself staring at the blank page (or, more likely, screen) and your mind goes blank.

How can you get past writer’s block? Try a few of these tricks of the trade:

Just start writing. You’ll be surprised at the success you’ll have if you just start. It doesn’t matter if the content is perfect (chances are it won’t be), but at least you’ll get past that initial hurdle.

Clear your head. Get up from your desk. Go for a walk. Grab a glass of water, a cup of coffee. Look out the window (but not for too long!). Sometimes changing your physical perspective can change your mental perspective.

Clear your desk. This goes along with the previous tip. In other words, set aside dedicated time for writing. Don’t answer your phone, check your emails, visit social media sites or play online games. If you’re really serious about this, there are apps you can use to limit your distractions, such as SelfControl (free) for Mac users, Freedom for both Mac and PC users.

Do your research. Your writer’s block could merely be a case of not having enough information. Search online for topics similar to yours; you may come across something that sparks an idea.

Read, read, read. This is different from researching a topic. Read the newspaper, read magazines, books, blogs. The more you read, the more internal resources you’ll have when push comes to shove.

Keep a swipe file. Copywriters and designers do this religiously. Like something you’ve read? Keep it in a folder (either on your computer or in your desk). Then, when you need inspiration, open the folder and you’ve got it at your fingertips.

Set it aside. Sometimes, it helps to move on to the next project and come back to your writing task later. You’ll often find that your writer’s block has mysteriously disappeared.

Ask for help. That doesn’t mean you should ask a coworker to write it for you. However, you can bounce an idea off someone else, or ask for help with wording.

What are your remedies for writer’s block? Share your ideas below or on Twitter: @Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein Nov 24

Why Keyword Stuffing Can Work Against You in Terms of Search Results

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According to Google, keyword stuffing is defined as the practice of loading a web page with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate the site’s ranking in search results. This is considered a black-hat SEO tactic and a definite no-no.

If you’re guilty of keyword stuffing, now’s the time to go cold turkey. This practice can actually have the reverse of the desired effect, as Google and other search engines are likely to penalize your site, pushing it further down in the rankings.

From a copy standpoint, keyword stuffing makes for stilted copy. Here’s an example of a paragraph plagued by keyword stuffing:

This article is about best practices related to keyword stuffing. If you’re not sure what keyword stuffing is, read on. Keyword stuffing is content that is stuffed with keywords and keyword phrases, and usually the keywords are out of context. In keyword stuffing, sometimes the keywords or keyword phrases appear in a list or a grouping.

You get the idea.

That doesn’t mean you should steer clear of keywords altogether. As part of your SEO strategy, you need to conduct keyword research, then include those words and phrases into your content. However (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again), you need to write for people, not for the search engines.

So what is the optimal percentage of keywords to overall content? I’m referring to keyword density, an SEO metric that has pretty much gone by the wayside. To determine keyword density, you’d divide the number of a certain keyword by the total number of words on the page. Instead of focusing on your math skills, focus on your writing skills and figure out how you can insert keywords in a manner that makes sense to the reader.

One way to avoid overstuffing is to use synonyms. That is, find other words with similar meaning to substitute for your precious keywords. For example, you might replace “keyword stuffing” in the offending (and offensive) paragraph above with “this practice.” By replacing some of the keywords in your copy, you’ll avoid awkward repetition (and the wrath of the search engine gods).

Another way to insert keywords without overdoing it is to use long-tail keywords. For example, instead of just saying “farm produce,” you could say “organically grown farm produce” or “farm produce from the Lehigh Valley.” When it comes to SEO, more specific keywords produce more specific search results.

Don’t be a turkey. Avoid keyword stuffing, and you’ll keep from ruffling the feathers of the search engine powers that be.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Photo credit: Turkey image by ericksonkee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Darcy Grabenstein Nov 17

Show Me Your Briefs (Your Creative Briefs, That Is)

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 Men's boxers

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so it’s only appropriate that I pause to acknowledge what I’m thankful for as a copywriter. In a broad sense, I am grateful for the Internet. I have unlimited free resources for research right at my fingertips, which is invaluable when working on deadline.

I’m thankful that I work with brilliant creative minds at Annodyne, an agency that values training and continual improvement. I’m also thankful for appreciative clients who, in addition to providing honest feedback, take the time to recognize hard work and creativity.

From a tactical standpoint, I am thankful for detail-filled creative briefs. The briefs I’ve received from our account managers are the most comprehensive I’ve seen in a long time (and I’ve worked with dozens of agencies over the years).

A creative brief is essential to producing work that’s in line with the client’s goals. What elements should a creative brief include? At a minimum, a creative brief should include the following:

Background – This is particularly helpful if you’re working with freelance copywriters and/or designers.

Audience – Your audience will determine both the content and tone of the messaging.

Objective – What end result do you want to achieve? A purchase? Generate leads? Drive web traffic? Build awareness?

Key message – Summarize the main message in a simple, single sentence.

Deadlines – When are various deliverables due to the client? Use this to work backward and develop a production timeline.

Specs – For print collateral, this includes details such as size of printed piece and any other specifications such as ink and paper colors, paper stock, quantity, etc. For online materials, such as banner ads, this includes pixel sizes and more technical considerations such as static vs. animated, character counts (if applicable) and number of frames.

In addition, if the project involves online communications, the brief could include keywords and keyword phrases for SEO purposes. Brand guidelines are useful as well, especially for freelancers. Competitive information can paint a picture of the broader business landscape. Legal information, such as sweepstakes rules, should also be included.

A well-crafted creative brief not only helps the agency, it helps the client clarify its direction and purpose for the project.

Creative brief – client benefits:

• Provides a format in which the client can share its vision and thought processes

  • Allows input (and, ultimately, buy-in) from various stakeholders on the client side
  • By stating desired outcomes, makes the project measurable in terms of ROI (an important consideration for upper 
  • management)
  • A little extra effort up front can save the client in the long run, as in providing statistics or other information to be used in the content (saving both time and money by minimizing research efforts and cutting down on revisions).

Creative brief – copywriter benefits:

  • Provides both general and specific insight (without getting overly specific so as to stifle creativity) into the brand, the stakeholders and the project
  • Helps develop the tone and direction for the piece
  • Gives the client’s perspective, which can help frame the content

Creative brief  – designer benefits:

  • Gives a starting point for layout and design
  • Prevents developing creative that’s off-target
  • Helps in presenting creative to the client and building a case for design direction

What are you thankful for, either on the agency or the client side?

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Photo credit: By Luis2492 (Own work) GFDLCC-BY-SA-4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons